The  Community Roundtable that I was asked to run at Symposium ended up “Going Stealth” this year due to approval issues and sign-offs from legal (the usual corporate BS). However, we did end up having the session in an unadvertised back corner of the Yacht & Beach club. I’d like to thank everyone who participated. Hopefully we can be a little more “above board” next year.

Here are some of the takeaways:

Roundtable Theme

Companies spend millions of dollars implementing project, program and portfolio management practices and systems. However, these systems often result in significantly more overhead and cost than planned and don’t deliver the anticipated business results. The business blames IT. IT blames the business and both often blame the tools and vendors. Where are the disconnects?

Flawed assumptions:
PPM tools will fix a broken process – Broken processes means a broken deployment
An executive-focused deployment will provide value and informed decision making – If the people on the floor aren’t using the tool to actually manage time and work, then the data is inherently flawed
Executives want to be able to see every little detail of a project – Executives want a 30,000 foot view and a platform to help establish trust. The average time for a CxO to make a go/no-go project decision is less than 2 minutes. (Gartner) Most of these decisions are based on the level of trust placed in the person requesting the project and not any objective metrics.
A tool will force conformity and good business practices – If based on a flawed process, or if insufficient training/value is communicated, it simply teaches people to find ways to work around the tool. Also provides the illusion of control since people learn how to “game the system”
PPM tools replace PMs – PPM tools increase the need for disciplined PMs with an understanding of the tools and business implications of the collected data. Increased visibility translates to increased need for business and financial skills in the PMs.
Project, Program and Portfolio management are part of a single career path – Project Management is an operational/People management discipline. Program management is a tactical/organizational management discipline and Portfolio Management is a strategic/financial/political discipline. There’s overlap, but it’s not an evolutionary ladder.  Forcing PMs into Portfolio Management roles is a recipe for disaster. Some will go willingly and successfully, but most will be getting set up for failure.
Executive sponsorship is essential – Many groups have been very successful in managing their own portfolio without direct executive sponsorship. Apocryphal evidence that bottom-up approaches may actually be more successful. (Less overall cultural impact?)

Things to do to be successful:
Essential that any tools are designed to meet the needs of the people doing the work.
-Collaborative project management and task/time tracking that EVERYBODY uses
-Make it easy for the project team to track their work and see how it fits into the “big picture”
-Managed and maintained document repositories
-“One view of the truth” – Big mistake to track the same data in different places
-Kill attachments. Force people to link to live documents

Train everybody. Repeat
-Create a training and information program to continually refresh knowledge of the system and to make sure that everyone understands how the tools are to be used and why. Informed decisions about the processes can’t be made without understanding how the data will be used.

PPM is doomed to failure if there aren’t mature processes in place BEFORE the tool is selected/deployed. Fix the processes and get buy-in from all levels before even thinking about a tool.

Implement “Just enough process”. Large cumbersome roadmaps, methodologies and inflexible frameworks provide little or no value to the people doing the work. Implement checklists and conditional frameworks (eg: If less than $100K, manage with a spreadsheet and checklist. If >$1M, full EVM with a predefined project model).

One large services company has extremely mature processes all based around Excel spreadsheets and Sharepoint. They’re managing a multi-billion dollar portfolio successfully and just starting to look at formal PPM tools. Evidence that the processes are more important than the tools. Good processes make up for bad tools, but the reverse is not true.

Don’t use the tool to promote consolidating into “Mega Projects”. Failure rates increase as project size and complexity are compounded. Segment projects into small (less than 3 months) components with quick measurable gains and manage each as “mini projects” with touchpoints.

Convert IT from a “technology value” mentality to a “business value” mentality. Portfolio management doesn’t work as long as that disconnect in viewpoints exists.
-“Business Value” doesn’t mean “Reduced Costs”. It usually means improved agility and an ability to respond to changing business needs. Cost is secondary to value.
-“Managed and Secure” doesn’t mean “Restrictive and policed”. Reasonable control of the environment and ensuring that we meet legal and regulatory obligations. Sometimes  it’s cheaper to pay a fine than it is to build an infrastructure to avoid it.
-IT needs to be an enabler with a “can do” attitude instead of an inhibitor locking down the environment and imposing controls that provide no business value.

Tool needs to be used in real-time
-Tool failed when used primarily as an annual planning tool. Successful when the process supported a real-time planning and approval process. Projects are entered as they’re envisioned and they dynamically develop through proposal, approval and scheduling. Annual planning is just an exercise in reconciling the budget needs for the next year rather than a mad scramble to create and justify the entire portfolio.

PPM Successes and high ROI
Engage the customer
-Don’t allow the customer to throw projects over the wall. Any PPM tools or processes need to fully engage the customer. If the customer disengages, there needs to be a mechanism to stop the project or at least throw up a red flag. PPM tools can help.

Be religious about requirements
-Set gates and project “drop dead” points for requirements. If the project is broken up into small enough phases or chunks, IT can stay agile while still saying “That will have to be shelved until the next phase”. The tool can lock down requirements, code and test cases.

Strict Change Management
-When a requirement changes, it needs to be documented and the PMO needs to have the authority to force a review of the schedule, budget and resources. Reports can be generated to show where requirements have changed and when the reviews didn’t occur.

Resource management and planning
-Mapping out projects as they become visible (rather than as approved) has allowed the organization to plan career development, develop staffing plans and to develop long-term communications strategies for any organizational changes. Resources feel more engaged as they’re trained for upcoming trends and projects instead of hiring external consultants at the last minute.

Align resources
-Skills inventories and the ability to see when resources are scheduled to become available allows easier scheduling and prioritizing of projects. Only works if the PPM system is real-time and the data is actually accurate.

Prune dead projects
-PMs know when projects are doomed, but are often forced to continue anyways. The tool provides visibility and forces stakeholders to be more objective.  Quarterly review and pruning of project occurs to make way for new projects and changing business needs.

Biggest single issue
Organization Change.  This is compounded if the organization isn’t prepared for the structure and visibility that PPM requires. Develop Processes first, then information sharing/visibility, then a tool. Get over the organizational issues and challenges before even considering a tool.